Toho’s Godzilla series was so successful that Daiei Studios decided they wanted a monster of their own. Probably realizing they couldn’t compete at the adult level with the Big G, Toho aimed somewhat lower, by focusing on the children’s market. The result is a substandard kaiju flick, the potential of which wouldn’t be fully realized until 34 years later.
1965’s “Giant Monster Gamera” opens with a Soviet bomber carrying atomic weapons being shot down by the Americans in the barren ice plains of the Artic Circle. While the resulting atomic explosion fails to melt any ice, it does manage to revive the gigantic prehistoric turtle Gamera. Annoyed at being awakened from his seven thousand year hibernation, the giant turtle immediately heads to Japan for reasons unknown, and begins acting anti-social to the point where several branches of the Japanese military have to be called on for help. When all efforts to subdue the giant turtle fails, the Japanese Government is forced to come up with a radical plan to save their nation.
It’s been reported that Daiei Studios decided upon a giant turtle only after their plans to make a film about radioactive rats failed, which doesn’t say very much about Gamera’s origins. “Giant Monster Gamera” is filmed in stark black and white, which in itself is rather unusual for a movie made in 1965, when color film was already mainstream. One of the positive side effects of this is that the Artic scenes benefit from the black and white filmstock, with everything contrasting in a clear perspective and probably looks much better than the filmmakers ever intended. But the Artic scenes only comprise about ten minutes of the whole film, with the rest looking so bleak and unappealing that you wish the producers could have found it in their hearts to spring for color filmstock to begin with.
As with the choice to use black and white filmstock, not very much about “Giant Monster Gamera” is very logical. Why does Gamera take the long journey to Japan when there are plenty of perfectly good cities closer by to run amok in? Is there something specific about Japan that draws him? Why is the fact that an atomic bomb has been detonated in the Artic almost immediately forgotten by everyone? And why do the Soviets act like they don’t even know the Americans shot down one of their planes? A plane carrying nukes, no less? Questions like these continue to come up throughout the film, with nary an explanation to be found.
Granted, since this a giant monster film, throwing a vast amount of logic out the window is the norm. Even so, the producers are really pushing their luck. Not that the writer helps matters, especially since he expects us to believe that Gamera is the product of natural evolution, which apparently includes the ability to breathe fire and fly. Charles Darwin is probably spinning in his grave over that one. There’s also an irritating subplot involving a young boy who forms a bond with Gamera, believing the monster to be his beloved pet turtle. Why he thought that is anyone’s guess. Maybe the kid is just soft in the head.
The Japanese cast is mostly decent, but most of the American actors look like they were dragged in off the street and forced to act for the cameras against their will. Not that Noriaki Yuasa’s direction is cause for rejoicing, because “Giant Monster Gamera” plods along aimlessly with nothing of note happening onscreen to keep the audience’s attention. Gamera himself shows up once in a while to liven things up a bit, but even so the film doesn’t offer anything viewers haven’t seen numerous times before.
As for Gamera himself, he looks somewhat menacing, thanks to the suit design by Yonesaburo Tsukiji, and the black and white manages to hide a lot of the flaws that color would have readily exposed. Another obvious criticism concerns why the filmmakers decided to have Gamera walk on two legs. Turtles aren’t bipeds, and are expected to remain that way in the foreseeable future. Needless to say, seeing a giant walking turtle really doesn’t quite invoke the menace the producers were probably hoping for. Unless, of course, you have an inexplicable fear of bipedal turtles, in which case you may want to avoid the film entirely.
In fact, even if you don’t have a fear of bipedal turtles, you should still avoid the film anyway.
Noriaki Yuasa (director)
CAST: Eiji Funakoshi …. Dr. Hidaka
Harumi Kiritachi …. Kyoke
Junichiro Yamashiko …. Aoyagi
Michiko Sugata …. Nobuyo